Veterans complete tor of duty with HMS Raleigh trainees

VETERANS are helping Britain’s next generation of sailors through their training on the wilds of Dartmoor – changing the traditional image of former military personnel.

Trainees as young as 16 spend a couple of days on the moor hiking, learning to navigate, work as a team, and survive in an austere environment.

With them all the way are instructors from HMS Raleigh – plus a handful of Royal Naval Association members, former sailors who want to ensure the 21st-Century generation make the grade.

Retired Royal Navy personnel have been helping out at the Torpoint establishment for more than a decade: four veterans work with each fresh intake of 60 or so civilians arriving at the base most Mondays to begin their ten-week transformation into junior sailors.

Much of that guidance is concentrated in the base: veterans help with tasks such as ironing and getting kit and uniforms ready for inspection, or providing general moral and pastoral support.

But increasingly – hoping to shed the perhaps traditional image of veterans ‘only’ marching at memorial parades or recounting seafaring stories over a tot of rum – the mentors are with the recruits in the field, helping them through outdoor activities, assault course and the two-day slog around Gutter Tor, about half an hour’s drive outside Plymouth.

I went through the same things – away from my family for the first time, sharing messes with strangers, I had the same feeling when I walked through the gates or walked up the gangway of my first ship.

Former medical assistant Les Yeoman

Former medical assistant Les Yeoman is one of 26 RNA volunteers at Raleigh. He left the Navy in 2000 after 33 years as a medical assistant, joining as a boy in the mid-1960s and, he says, faced many of the same challenges a 16-year-old arriving at HMS Raleigh today.

“I went through the same things – away from my family for the first time, sharing messes with strangers, I had the same feeling when I walked through the gates or walked up the gangway of my first ship,” says Les.

“We’re with the recruits from week one, day one, looking after them, staying with them throughout. On that first day, we tell them: We want to see you in ten weeks’ time at the passing out ceremony.”

At just 16, Jake Orrell from Blackburn is one of the youngest recruits currently going through training. He struggled with his kit. “Thanks to their help I eventually passed with flying colours,” the teenager said.

“They have done everything they could for us – they’re legends. If you are struggling, they will step in. They could not have been more help.”

Charlotte Woods, a 28-year-old trainee dental nurse from Cornwall, added: “The veterans are always really positive – and the more encouragement you get, the easier the course is to get through. You need someone to ‘gear you up’.”

For the volunteers – male and female, aged from their 40s into their 70s – the time with the recruits “reminds us of the camaraderie of naval life, but most of all, you’re giving something back. It’s great to see a recruit on the first day pass out ten weeks later.”